Belgium to raise Opel future with Merkel

17th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Belgium will raise the restructuring of car maker Opel at a EU summit on Thursday amid a row over German state aid, the head of the country's Flanders regional government said.

"I don't have an agenda for tomorrow but I think it will certainly be a subject for discussion, informally and perhaps formally," Flanders president Kris Peeters told reporters on Wednesday.

He said he had talked earlier with Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, hoping he would pass a message to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

An auto plant at Antwerp in Belgium is now seen under threat in the planned sale of Opel by General Motors to a consortium led by Magna International of Canada.

Speaking after meeting EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, Peeters said a formal complaint for an investigation into allegations that German aid was protectionist was being considered.

"We are looking into that," he said.

Officials are still waiting for a series of reports on Magna's planned takeover of GM's European division, which employs 50,000 people in several European countries.

Peeters said Kroes had promised a "severe" examination of the case and that if she found "political factors" had been at work, "there would be a very strong and very clear conclusion."

He said Magna had sent him a letter, dated 29 July, in which the Canadian auto parts maker said they wanted "to speak about possibilities to save Antwerp, to give other activities" to the plant.

Belgium has stepped up its offensive against German state aid to Opel's planned new owners, demanding that the slightest hint of protectionism be laid down by European competition authorities.

Merkel's government, which faces a general election next weekend, backed Magna's offer as offering the best future for the 25,000 Opel workers in Germany and put up EUR 4.5 billion (USD 6.5 billion) in aid.

Peeters fears that the Opel plant in Antwerp, northern Belgium, which employs around 2,700 people, is to be sacrificed after Magna's co-chief executive Siegfried Wolf said that it planned to cut 10,500 jobs.

GM hopes to finalise the sale in October, its chief executive Fritz Henderson said Wednesday.


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